3 April 1998

Lift poorer land returns

By Catherine Paice

POORER land currently farmed under contract agreements may now reap better returns from a Countryside Stewardship Scheme or as set-aside.

Richard Sanders, farm management specialist with Midlands chartered surveyors Fisher Hoggarth, says crop price predictions and the implications of Agenda 2000 may result in budgeted returns over the next three to five years similar to harvest 1997 levels.

"For many conventional land-owners, the crop gross margin from wheat, for example, might be £495/ha (£200/acre), which would outweigh the income from, say, set-aside at around £297/ha (£120/acre)," he says.

"But the same comparison cannot be made for land farmed on contract or share farming agreements."

Contract agreements for harvest 1997 gave a return to the landowners of £173-£222/ha (£70-£90/acre). The area farmed would include land or cropping requirements which curtailed the average return to the landowner – including unproductive soil types, awkward field shapes, buffer zones, areas close to water courses or urban population, and low gross margin crops within a rotation (eg, barley, beans or second wheats).

The table illustrates the potential returns – all usually retained by the landowner – of putting such land into a stewardship scheme or set-aside.

For example, unproductive soil types in a CSS could give a return to the landowner of at least £279/ha (£113/acre) against an income of £198/ha (£80/acre) from a contract farming agreement.

Mr Sanders said, "It shows that while hedge-to-hedge cropping with minimum set-aside was the correct option two to three years ago, landowners should now be looking at the alternative options on field boundaries and poor land."

They should also, he said, consider bringing set-aside into crop rotations to replace less profitable crop options.

Alternative income for poorer land

Income to landowner (£/ha)

contract farm CSS set-aside

Land/crop type

Unproductive Recreating grassland

soils 198 on cultivated land 297

279 (grasskeep income)

Awkward 198 – 297

field shapes

Buffer zones 6m arable margin

+ areas close – option 583 297

to population

Low gross

margin crops 227 _ 297

Alternative income for poorer land


Income to landowner (£/ha)

contract CSS set-aside

farm

Land/crop type

Unproductive soils 198 Recreating grassland on 297

cultivated land

(grasskeep income)

Awkward field 198 – 279 297

shapes

Buffer zones+ areas 6m arable margin option 583 297

close to population –

Low gross margin crops 227 – 297